Saving South Asian farming communities from climate change: Learnings from a project

Because erstwhile rain-shadow zones such as Manang and Mustang are receiving more rainfall, it can also affect apple farming there. This photo was taken in Chame of Manang, in November 2018 Photo: Shashwat Pant/File
Because erstwhile rain-shadow zones such as Manang and Mustang are receiving more rainfall, it can also affect apple farming there. This photo was taken in Chame of Manang, in November 2018 Photo: Shashwat Pant/File

Climate change impacts on agriculture can have significant social, economic and political consequences, particularly in developing countries such as Nepal that rely heavily on agriculture for their livelihoods and food security among farming communities.

Fluctuations in temperature, rainfall patterns, and extreme weather events can negatively impact crop yields and reduce food security. Variations in rainfall patterns, increased temperature and frequency of droughts can lead to soil degradation, reducing its fertility and productivity. Climate change can increase the range and spread of pests and diseases, which can cause significant harm to crops and livestock. Rainfall patterns and increased frequency of droughts can lead to water scarcity, making it difficult for farmers to irrigate their crops.

Climate change can lead to the migration of farming communities from rural areas to urban areas, as a result of decreased crop yields and increased frequency of natural disasters. As crop yields decline and the cost of production increases, food prices are likely to rise, leading to food insecurity for many people, particularly those in developing countries.

But, there are some initiatives to promote food yielding and enhance the livelihood of smallholder farmers for food security in the future while protecting them from climate change. The Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) project, launched in 2010, has brought about significant changes in farming communities across South Asia, including Nepal, India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. The CSISA experiences can be a lesson for future plans and programmes targeting such communities.

Promoting sustainable agriculture

Implemented by International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT), the project is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and USAID and is aimed at improving food security and increasing agricultural productivity among farming communities in the region.

It has introduced new and improved farming practices, such as the use of high-yielding seed varieties, integrated pest management, and precision agriculture. These practices have led to increased crop yields and improved farm income for farmers in the region.

The project promotes sustainable agriculture by encouraging farmers to adopt environmentally friendly farming practices, such as integrated pest management and precision agriculture. It has helped farming communities in the region increase their rice yields by introducing high-yielding seed varieties and improving farming practices.

Farmers adopt more efficient water management practices, which has led to increased crop yields and reduced water waste. Providing extensive training to farmers in the region, covering topics such as seed selection, crop management, and marketing has helped farmers to improve their farming practices and increase their income.

The project has worked with local governments and farming communities to improve market linkages for farmers. This has helped farmers access new markets and sell their produce at higher prices, which has increased their income and improved their livelihoods.

The increased crop yields and improved farm income from the project have helped to improve food security for farming communities in the region.

Making agriculture inclusive

Farming fields are seen from Saurpani in Sulikot. Around 80% of the population from the area is engaged in agriculture, and the majority of the farmers are conducting family-based, subsistence-level agricultural practices where they mainly grow paddy and millet.

One of the key achievements of the project has been the introduction of improved rice varieties in Nepal. These varieties have higher yield potential and are more resistant to pests and diseases, which has led to increased crop yields and improved food security for farming communities.

The CSISA project seeks to promote gender equality and social inclusion through its interventions. This involves promoting women’s leadership and empowerment in the agriculture sector, as well as addressing barriers that prevent women and marginalised groups from participating fully in agricultural activities.

The initiative has provided training and resources to women farmers in South Asia, which has increased their participation in agriculture and improved their economic status. Women are also being encouraged to take leadership roles in their communities and to participate in decision-making processes related to agriculture.

Evidence suggests that if women in the Global South had access to the same productive resources as men, farm yields could rise by up to 30 per cent, increasing total agricultural output by up to four per cent and decreasing the number of hungry people around the world by up to 17 per cent.

It seeks to address gender-based barriers that prevent women from participating in agriculture, including unequal access to resources, limited decision-making power, and limited mobility. This may involve working with farming communities to change attitudes and beliefs, as well as providing women with access to resources and training.

It promotes gender-sensitive agriculture practices, such as those that allow women to participate in agriculture and access resources such as water and land. It works with women’s organisations to build their capacity and promote their leadership in the agriculture sector.

This may involve providing training, resources, and support for women’s organisations and encouraging collaboration between organisations and government agencies.

Efforts to promote social inclusion by addressing barriers faced by marginalised farming communities such as people with disabilities, ethnic minorities, and low-income households involve providing training and resources to these groups, as well as working with local communities to address attitudes and beliefs that prevent these groups from participating fully in agriculture.

Keeping farmers at the centre

Nepal’s agriculture is heavily dependent on natural weather, making it more vulnerable to climate change. In the photo, farmers are planting rice in the monsoon of 2021. Photo: Bikash Shrestha

In addition to supporting farming communities in the use of new technologies, the CSISA project also places a strong emphasis on community engagement and local ownership. By working closely with local organisations and communities, the project seeks to ensure that farmers are at the centre of the decision-making process and that the benefits of the project are felt by all. This community-centred approach not only addresses the specific needs of farmers in the region but also promotes long-term sustainability and helps to ensure that the benefits of the project are felt for generations to come.

It has also collaborated with local governments and communities to improve infrastructure, such as the construction of irrigation systems and the development of market linkages. These efforts have helped farmers in the region access markets and sell their produce at higher prices, which has led to increased income and improved livelihoods for farming communities.

The project has brought about positive change in farming communities across South Asia, improving food security and increasing agricultural productivity in the region. The project’s achievements and impact are a testament to the potential of science and technology to make a positive difference in the lives of people and adapt to global warming and climate change.

It has received positive feedback from farmers and stakeholders in the region, and its impact has been recognised by the governments of the countries in which it operates. The project is expected to continue its work in the region and expand its reach to other countries in South Asia.

The government can multiple such programmes to replicate adaptive social protection, use of nitrogen-boosted tomato production and high-yielding maize production, which is climate-resilient.

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Maharjan is an independent writer volunteering for research facilitation in Nepal.

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